Citing new findings that many parents lack the information they need to prevent obesity in their children, Shape Up America! and National Turkey Federation (NTF) are kicking off a national mobilization to help First Lady Michelle Obama fight childhood obesity. The groups plan to arm parents with the facts and tools to make simple changes -- or 'upgrades' -- in favorite meals and physical activity levels so everyone can reap the benefits of taking in less calories.
Coming at a time when more than 12 million children in the United States are classified as obese and more than 23 million young Americans are considered overweight, the organizations are stepping up their efforts to show parents how they can improve their children's weight status using an online tool called the Meal Upgrade Calculator.
Besides showing consumers how to 'upgrade' favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, this interactive website now gives parents the means to assess the weight status of their children and reduce the calories and fat consumed in meals served at school and in restaurants.
Another new feature is the Family Activity Calculator, which shows parents how to increase the time children spend being physically active.
The Meal Upgrade Calculator was initially introduced to consumers and the nutrition community in 2010. However, Shape Up America! and NTF commissioned a new survey in 2011 that finds many parents are not equipped to assess their children's weight status and lack the information to improve the meals children eat outside the home. In response, the organizations added new extensions to the calculator that allow consumers to make a number of 'upgrades' to school and restaurant meal selections.
Conducted in March 2011 by ORC International (ORC), the online survey examined the attitudes and actions of 500 mothers with children between the ages of 6 years and 16 years and calculated the Body Mass Index (BMI) of their youngest child. Although 34 percent of the children assessed in this study meet the criteria for overweight or obesity, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of their mothers don't recognize this fact and are not taking simple steps to improve their children's weight status, according to Shape Up America! and NTF.
Also according to the ORC research, mothers are operating under a false sense of security that their children are getting enough daily physical activity and significantly underestimate the time their children spend being sedentary. Only one in four of the moms polled think their youngest child spends too much time watching television and DVDs (26 percent) or spends too much time playing on the computer (24 percent), although it is estimated the average American child spends more than 7.5 hours a day watching TV and movies, using cell phones and computers for entertainment, and playing video games.
At the same time, the survey uncovers a number of barriers that make it more difficult for moms to reduce the fat and calories in family meals. When asked, "What is the biggest obstacle you face when serving your family more nutritious foods," 39 percent of the moms surveyed cite having children who are picky eaters and only like certain foods, while one in four say serving more nutritious meals "takes a lot more time to prepare" (26 percent) or requires ingredients that are "often more expensive" (25 percent).
Moreover, the survey finds that few parents are using new tools, like calorie information on restaurant menus, when taking the family out to eat. According to the survey, only 23 percent of the moms say they look for calorie information on restaurant menus, while another 21 percent say they are not able to find this information in the restaurants they frequent.
However, the poll uncovers an under-recognized opportunity for parents to improve the nutritional quality of the lunches their children eat at school. According to the ORC survey, almost half of the moms (44 percent) regularly pack their child's school lunch, which is why Shape Up America! and NTF added new features to the Meal Upgrade Calculator with information on how to 'upgrade' school lunches.
The Meal Upgrade Calculator is available on the websites of both organizations at www.shapeup.org and www.EatTurkey.com.